Call It What You Want by Brigid Kemmerer
Bloomsbury YA / Macmillan
Publication Date: June 25, 2019
Rob and Maegan have been ostracized by their classmates: Rob’s crooked father embezzled money leaving some community members struggling financially, and Maegan jeopardized classmates’ SAT scores by cheating during the test. Both have put up walls to protect themselves but romantically connect when those walls come down. Maegan learns that Rob takes care of his father whose unsuccessful suicide attempt requires twenty-four hour care. Rob guesses that Maegan’s new family drama includes her older sister’s unplanned pregnancy while on a full-ride lacrosse scholarship to Duke that their father wants kept secret. How can anything go right when so much has gone wrong?
A dual narrative provides perspective on both main characters’ internal and external struggles so nothing is a mystery. In fact, the straightforward coming-of-age story is what makes it a favorite. Tension builds as secrets emerge once Rob and Maegan are paired on a project. Yet Kemmerer does not create an insta-romance nor does either character need a savior. Their complexities are their own and so are their feelings. Simply put, the realism of the story is its strength using empathy to set the tone.
Because Rob and Maegan find each other at the right time, Call It What You Want has a similar tone to book to movie combination Everything Everything. Likewise, the dual narrative style that readers might appreciate is also seen in Sandhya Menon’s books When Dimple Met Rishi and There’s Something About Sweetie and the newly published Wild and Crooked by Leah Thomas among others.
The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante
G.P. Putnam’s Sons / Penguin Random House
Publication Date: June 11, 2019
Marisol and her sister Gabi come to the United States seeking asylum after their brother is murdered by gang members and their own lives are threatened. With the potential of having their request denied, Marisol agrees to take part in an experimental project in which she absorbs the grief and trauma from someone else. When she is assigned to Rey, who just lost her own brother, Marisol is drawn to Rey, but Rey’s overwhelming grief may tear Marisol apart.
Villasante executes an interesting and innovative concept well in a story that bends genres. The science behind Marisol being a grief keeper seems almost believable and the unique challenges inherent in her role still incorporate the fear and difficulty endemic to immigrants seeking asylum in a brilliant, sometimes lyrical, way that blends both the English and Spanish languages. The relationships between Marisol and her sister as well as her relationship with Rey, are fleshed out and have layers as the story unfolds. As Marisol and Rey spend more time together the tone shifts from out there science fiction, to a slow burn love story, appealing to a variety of readers and adding a refreshing LGBTQ+ element. The themes of love, unimaginable loss, the ethics of experimental science, and glaring issues facing immigrants make this worthy of a best fiction nod.
This title is a great pick for fans of The Radius of Us by Marie Marquardt and The Program series by Suzanne Young, as well as the Hulu movie Culture Shock.
–Molly Dettmann and Jodi Kruse